Holy Cross 76, American 67

(Originally posted: Sunday, 7:48 p.m.)

Special to The Telegram&Gazette

WASHINGTON, D.C. – To folks with young children, what happened in Holy Cross’ 76-67 overtime win over American University was nothing new. Parents and children alike know when things look worrisome, Clifford will come to the rescue.

That’s exactly what happened Sunday afternoon in the nation’s capital. With starting center Nate Lufkin sitting this one out with a sprained ankle and swingman Greg Kinsey slowed by ankle problems of his own, Holy Cross was needed someone to play the hero.

Sure enough, just like in those kid’s books, it was Clifford who came through. Of course unlike the books, it was not a big red dog that bailed out the Crusaders. It was Tim Clifford, the big purple freshman who came off the bench to put up a 13-point, 13-rebound double-double as Holy Cross (17-5, 8-1 Patriot League) solidified its hold on first place in the Patriot League.

The win was the Crusaders’ ninth in a row and their 11th in the past 12 games. Coupled with Bucknell’s loss at Lehigh Sunday, it gave HC a two-game lead over the three teams – Bucknell, Lehigh and American — tied for second place (all with 6-3 league records).

It probably would not have happened without the play of Clifford. The 6-10 frosh from Walpole was a defensive force, especially in the second half and overtime, when he picked up four of his five blocked shots and vacuumed up 10 of his game-high 13 boards, helping the Crusaders overcome a 36-29 halftime deficit.

“Timmy played today the way I’ve been waiting for him to play all year,” said Holy Cross coach Ralph Willard. “He gave us great rebounding, blocked some shots and took up a lot of space on the offensive end.”

Especially in the overtime, when the combination of Clifford’s all-around play and Torey Thomas’ free throw shooting was the difference in the ballgame.

Clifford lost the tip to start the extra session, out jumped by American’s Patrick Okpwae. It was the only thing that didn’t go his way in the OT, and even that turned out fine for Holy Cross when Kevin Hamilton stole the tip and fed Keith Simmons for a go-ahead layup.

Then Clifford took over. At the other end, he protected the 59-57 lead by blocking Matej Cresnik’s shot. And after American tied it with a pair of Okpwae free throws, Clifford put back his own miss to give the Crusaders back the lead.

Okpwae tied it again with a nice spin move in the paint, but at the other end, Clifford put Holy Cross in the lead to stay with a feathery 12-foot jumper off the same pick-and-roll play he had scored on the last HC possession.

It seemed to catch American (13-8, 6-3) off guard when he pulled up for the shot. All his other points had come close to the rim. But when Cresnik left him open just inside the foul line to the left of the lane, Clifford showed no hesitation.

“I’ve always liked to shoot it,” laughed Clifford when asked about his range after the game. “But nothing beyond that.”

But Willard, who said he called Clifford’s number twice in a row in that overtime, game-on-the-line situation, said he did it because he had no doubt Clifford could make that play.

“Timmy’s a very good shooter for a big guy,” Willard said. “He can step away from the basket and shoot the basketball.”

After the Clifford jumper, Torey Thomas took over the scoring chores, first on a short jumper in the paint (following an Andre Ingram miss that was rebounded by Clifford) that gave HC a 4-point lead, then from the foul line, where he hit 6-of-8 down the stretch as American fouled in vain, trying to extend the game.

Clifford didn’t go away down the stretch. After Thomas’s jumper, he stepped out and got a hand up to harass Cresnik’s three-point try, which led to a Thomas free throw at the other end. And on AU’s next trip down the floor, Clifford came up with the rebound when Cresnik missed another three.

For good measure, Clifford added two free throws and three more rebounds in the final 42 seconds, including, fittingly, the rebound of the game’s final shot, a missed three-point try by American’s Lina Lekavicius.

In addition to his overtime heroics, Clifford’s presence in the middle made a big difference defensively in the second half for Holy Cross. After American hit 15-of-28 shots in the first half, they made just 12-of-43 the rest of the way. Part of the difference was a better effort on the perimeter.

“We did a much better job stopping them from getting the ball on the move and penetrating to the rim,” said Willard.

Unsaid was the confidence having Clifford there to cover up if someone got beat gave the Crusaders’ guards.

“Timmy changed some shots, made some blocks. He was a big presence,” said Willard. “That’s what Nate usually does for us. But with Nate out today, somebody had to do it and it was Tim.”

Clifford was not the only Crusader to step up. Thomas, who ironically lost his starting job to freshman Pat Doherty after he suffered a shoulder injury, took over for Doherty much of the second half and finished with 15 points, equaling his season high. John Hurley also helped fill the Lufkin void with 15 points and 6 rebounds and Kevin Hamilton added 14 points.

Andre Ingram led American with 22 points, but he missed the back end of a potential game-winning one-and-one after a questionable foul call on Hamilton with five seconds to go in regulation. Jason Thomas added 13, but 10 came in the first half. Okpwae also reached double figures with 11 points.

The win was the Crusaders’ ninth road win of the season, and their fourth on the road in the past two weeks. Holy Cross will play four of its last five regular season games in Worcester, starting Friday when they host Lafayette at the Hart Center. (BOX SCORE)

<< Home

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?

©2005 Hoop Time. All rights reserved.